A little more than a year ago, on my way to join my family on our annual beach retreat, I struck a conversation with my parents’ driver of over 2 decades, Mang Manny, and explained to him the pillars of democracy. I told him of what happened in France years ago, when power and wealth were so unevenly divided between the king (government) and church having the most and the people having the least (sound familiar?). I told him that with this kind of system, when power is too consolidated in the hands of the few, it becomes not just the interest but lifelong pursuit of the incumbents to make sure they don’t lose that power, instead of doing the right thing and em-powering others. To empower means to impart power into someone else. In the case of France, the people who were suffering decided enough was enough and revolted, leading to one of the bloodiest periods of their history, but in the process bringing to the world democracy – a system of governance that was for the people, of the people, by the people, where representation was to be equal, and had the purpose of promoting its three foundational principles: liberty, equality, and fraternity.
It was an awesome idea. It was radical in a time when people thought rulers had diving right – or God-given rulership, and it was truly empowering for now the common man not only had a say but a share. It was also purposefully balanced: yes, men were equal in the sense that we ALL have the right to shaping our own lives and all free to determine our own paths, yet this freedom was also checked by the idea of fraternity or brotherhood. We’re all equally free but also equally responsible for our neighbor.
Fast-forward to today, and I wonder how many of the silly people who say “I can do what I want. It’s a free country.” really understand what they mean. To most people, their understanding of democracy stands on one pillar: liberty. No wonder they do not really care for their freedom or the freedom of others because as soon as their freedom is shaken, their idea of what a free country should offer is ruined. No wonder there’s so much entitlement too. If all democracy stands for is “do what I want” then anything that prevents that is a crime.
But there’s also equality, that no matter how rich or poor, or how different, or how disadvantaged, that each person was to get proper representation. There’s also fraternity that we’re supposed to use our freedom to strengthen the third pillar of being a family.
I once explained what Freedom means in an article I wrote for women. You can read the full post here.
But the simple explanation is this:
The origins of the word “free” come from a word that means “loved”. In the olden days, when the privileged had slaves, those who were part of the family, were considered “not in bondage” or “pri” which meant “beloved”.
To be free in those days meant that you were loved, and because you were loved, you could enjoy the privileges of a loved one. Unlike the slaves who were bound to their limitations, you were unhindered.
You see, the idea of being “free” was never about just being able to do what one wanted, where one wanted, when one wanted, how one wanted. It was about enjoying the privileges of being the beloved.
Freedom was a privilege not an entitlement. That’s a major mindset change. In a world full of entitlements and right-claiming, going back to the definition of the word “freedom” reminds us that it was a privilege bestowed upon us and by clinging to our bestower we enjoyed more freedoms or privileges. When someone approaches something as a privilege, one values it and protects it. When someone approaches something as an entitlement, one claims it without necessarily having to pay the cost for it – it’s already his after all.
No wonder we see people who claim rights and rally for things yet are not willing to look into the true cost and not willing to undergo the suffering that brings us the privileges of freedom.
As I studied this word freedom and its root “pri” I was led to another much watered-down word: Friend.
The word Freedom and the word Friend both come from the idea of being loved.
How awesome is that?
When we go back to original definitions, we find how powerful love is: it was more than a feeling, more than butterflies in the stomach, or the light-headedness of excitement, or attraction. Love brought tangible benefits with it. To be loved by someone amazing brought privileges others couldn’t enjoy. To have a true friend meant to enjoy privileges he or she brought. To be a true friend meant being someone who brought privileges too because you were considered favored, you were special.
I say all this to communicate:
True freedom means being a true friend. It means taking your liberty and spending it on fraternity. It means taking the money your free to spend any way you want, and spending it in such a way that others are made better. It means taking the time you can use in any way, and scheduling in such a way that lives benefit. It means taking free speech and speaking out against injustice and promoting the right values. It means taking the right to be angry yet forgiving. It means taking the right to own things but being free to let go so that others too may enjoy. It means taking your freedoms and making something amazing out of it.
A mature person is someone who understands this and lives this out.
I see many imprisoned people around me. They are imprisoned by their materialism, imprisoned by their religion (when God is love and to be loved is to be free), by their superstition, imprisoned by fears and false securities, imprisoned by the need to be someone. Instead, I encourage you, like I encourage every young person I interact with, take your freedom, and use it to make the people around you better. It is not so important that people look at you and say, “He was a great man.” Instead let it be said, “Because of him we became better. Because of him we became great.”